By Hannah Thompson-Weeman
“Sustainability” is more than just a buzzword to farmers and ranchers. The term has many different definitions, but to the animal agriculture community, it means respecting the land and conserving resources so we can pass profitable farms on to the next generation. In my mind, farmers are the biggest advocates for environmental responsibility, as the health of the environment and availability of resources impacts them every day.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. Activist organizations are increasingly using the environmental impact of animal agriculture as a talking point in their crusade to encourage consumers to stop eating meat. Activist groups make outlandish claims, such as attributing 81% of global greenhouse gas emissions to animal agriculture or saying that animal agriculture is responsible for more emissions than the transportation sector. As climate change and the health of the environment continue to be hot topics, it’s up to us to make sure we are telling the true sustainability story of pork and animal agriculture.
Earlier this year, National Pork Board released a new study from the University of Arkansas that will help us all do just that. The study compares pork production in 2015 to production in 1960, concluding that today’s pork is more sustainable than ever. On-farm improvements in nutrition, genetics and overall pig care have contributed to a 7.7% smaller carbon footprint. Pork production today uses 75.9% less land, 25.1% less water and 7% less energy than in 1960.
Other sectors of animal agriculture have a similar positive story to tell. Livestock production as a whole is responsible for less than 4% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the positive strides made by all parts of the industry. Dairy farmers decreased their carbon footprint by 63% from 1944 to 2007. Since 1977, cattle ranchers have reduced their carbon footprint by 16%. The egg industry reduced its carbon footprint by 71% and its water use by 32% since 1960. These statistics and more are available in the Alliance’s new Sustainability Impact Report.
With Earth Day on the horizon, we can expect continued attacks on animal agriculture’s environmental impact from the usual suspects. Let’s be prepared to set the record straight.
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